LCSMC Stringed Instrument Ensemble Live @ “A Hundredfold for the Lord Music Festival” 03/08/2014

LCSMC Stringed Instrument Ensemble 03-08-2014
Yours truly on classical guitar, first guitarist from the left

Last Saturday’s “A Hundredfold for the Lord Music Festival” at UCCP-Ellinwood Malate Church was absolutely wonderful! I played as a lead guitar player for the group I now dub as the LCSMC Stringed Instrument Ensemble. All instrumentalists, solo singers, choirs, and support staff gave their all for the Lord. For the many people who have missed it, here’s the LCSMC Stringed Instrument Ensemble’s short set:

1. “Introduction” (Improvisation by LCSMC Stringed Instrument Ensemble)
2. “Rock of My Salvation (Music by Teresa Muller, instrumental arrangement by Joel Gervacio)
3. “Salamat Musika” (Music by Gary Granada, instrumental arrangement by LCSMC Stringed Instrument Ensemble)

Some of the things that I hope to have done in the concert include play one of my original compositions on solo piano and perform some piano as well for the ensemble (although this would equate to completely missing the point/concept of the ensemble). Anyway, there were at least six pianists around during the concert, and so it would have been redundant had I been plucked out to play some piano (plus there were much superior pianists around like Rev. Leo Rempola and Rey del Rosario).

I had initially planned to record the entire concert straight from UCCP-Ellinwood’s Main Sanctuary audio board. Unfortunately, technical limitations only allowed me to record the set where I played in. What sort of technical limitation was that? The sound guy only hand one RCA cable which he had to use to hook up mp3 players for first musical offering acts (Christian Pop). Since the group I played with was part of the second musical offering, I could only ask the sound guy to record my group’s set.

However wonderful the concert was, here’s are two items that I think could have made the concert a lot better:

1. Improved promotion. Search the Internet for this particular event and my blog shows up as the top result. LCSMC doesn’t seem to be keen on promoting their concerts except using limited exposure via Facebook. I’m not sure if this was done, but perhaps they could have also advertised the concert at 98.7 DZFE, NCCP, etc. You get the drift. I do think that the LCSMC should promote such events to a wider audience rather than to just member churches.

2. An LCSMC House Band. I am very much peeved by the preferences for backing tracks (what we call in the Philippines as “minus ones”) over live musicians by the majority of the pop singers (no offense, okay?) that performed in the concert. Such music could have been performed to a professional standard by a group of musicians available within the LCSMC. I do think that LCSMC has an abundance of instrumentalists that could have been commissioned to become a sort of house band that would play all sorts of Christian music ranging from contemporary to even classical.

Anyway, the most important thing about this concert was it was done as an expression of worship to the Lord through music. It is my sincere prayer that those who have witnessed the performance be blessed.

Advertisements

Hope in the Darkness Premiere 12/24/2013

Here’s a performance of one of my original compositions entitled “Hope in the Darkness”. This is actually the premiere of the piece last December 24, 2013 at United Church of Christ in the Philippines – Makati Church of Christ Disciples, J.P. Rizal, Makati City. I was playing lead guitar in this performance using a recent purchase (ESP LTD MH-300) and an EBow:

For a piece that was rehearsed only twice, it was okay. Although I feel that there can still be improvement (I suppose that many who would listen to this performance would think the same as we were fumbling in various spots of the piece), I am actually very happy and thankful that the UCCP-MCCD Music Ministry decided to go ahead and perform it.

Now, here is the solo piano version I came up with last November 2013:

The lyrics are as follows:
————-

Hope in the Darkness
(Based largely on Lamentations 3:19-33)
Music and Lyrics by Mark A. Galang

When hope seems lost
We try to make sense of things
as we’re hurtin’ deep within
Is this the cost
of our own misgivings?
As we try to forget all the bitterness inside,
We could not help but really wonder why

My soul’s downtrodden
As I remember my affliction and misery
But I am mistaken
As all these things just humble me
Reminding me of Your neverending mercy
I know in my heart Your love I shall see

Refrain:
And I find there’s hope in the darkness
For You, my Lord God I shall seek
With Your unfailing love, You show compassion
In You I find the hope that I need

All hope seems lost
As I see how the wicked prosper
as I suffer
And trust feels lost
As the world had turned its back
But I see Your light piercing deep into the night
I behold Your power, majesty, and might

(Repeat Refrain)

Our hope’s not lost
For You Lord Jesus had conquered sin and death
In You we Trust
For You alone has paid the final price, granting us eternal life
No force in this dark world can take
Your faithfulness would not forsake
All darkness will then fade away
Immanuel Your Kingdom it shall stay

Where there is Love
Where there is Peace
Where there is Hope

—————-

And so I look forward to the day that I can properly record this piece and be part of another performance. To anyone who is interested in performing this piece, send me a message and I’ll send you the sheet music. Thank you very much for our audience of one.

UCCP-MCCD’s Christmas Concert and the Premiere of “Hope in the Darkness”

Tomorrow 6 p.m. will be the UCCP-Makati Church of Christ Disciples’ Christmas Concert. I will be performing a short set of four songs with the UCCP-MCCD Music Ministry. One of these songs is an original composition of mine called “Hope in the Darkness”, effectively making that night the premiere of the said composition. The version that will be premiered would be for SATB choir and contemporary worship band. If you happen to be in Makati on Christmas Eve and you have some time to spare in the evening before your Noche Buena or Christmas dinner, please visit our church for a night of music and fellowship starting 6 p.m. The church is located at UCCP-Makati Church of Christ Disciples, J.P. Rizal St., Barangay Valenzuela, Makati City. Thank you and God bless.

Updates and Musings from the Last Two Weeks of September 2013

The past few weeks of September have been very interesting.

Last Monday, I completed my second day of school. I’m currently pursuing an M.A. in music education (applied music emphasis, piano) at the PWU School of Music. So far, so good it’s been very good. Despite experiencing anxiety (and messing up big time) when I played for the first time in front of my piano professor, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. This is because my second day with her was fruitful. I got my assigned work (scales from C to E, some Czerny, Beethoven, Bartok, and Tcherepin) and, more importantly, I learned aspects of my technique that need work, something that I probably won’t be able to observe on my own. I think I’m in good hands since my piano teacher is the romantic period piano expert at the UP College of Music. With enough effort on my part, I guess there’s a lot of things I can learn from her. She says my legato playing, fingering and pedaling can still improve. I just hope that I can play my assigned pieces at a respectable level come Monday. Time to go back to the woodshed I guess.

Fortunately, I’m still working with Steve Nixon as his music transcriber. Working with him is a great opportunity to improve my understanding of what jazz is. Seems like I’m getting some jazz education with Steve while I go improve my classical at PWU. Tomorrow, I’ll be submitting a jazz scale guide.

I also managed to finish the “Eucharistia” songbook for Barbie Dumlao and Springs Foundation, Inc. It’s always a pleasure working with them.

I’m waiting for new assignments from GuitarZoom. I just finished working on “Real World Soloing” and that one turned out to be good as well.

The highlight of last month is probably the concert entitled “Musicalitea in Unity”. It was a concert organized by the UCCP-LCSMC Liturgy and Music committee. It was held last 09/28/2013 at the PCU Auditorium. I performed an original composition called “Promises” for solo piano as part of my set. Prior to that, I performed an old favorite, “Hesus”, with Pastor Chaz Romero on guitar and Chay Innocentes on vocals. It was very fruitful. I felt very honored and happy as well afterwards as Rev. Leo Eva Rempola, virtuoso pianist extraordinaire, asked for a sheet music copy of “Promises” after hearing me perform it. Like most of what I hear from my performances, I don’t impress myself. Matter of fact is that I could probably improve my performance next time. Nevertheless, I’m happy enough that I plan to share recordings of the concert via Soundcloud, so watch out for those.

Until next time, please stay glued to this page. Thank you and God bless!

An Electric Guitar, a Tube Amp, a Hymn, and the Dream of an Electric Guitar Orchestra

The idea of having an electric guitar is nothing new. It’s been done before in the studio by the likes of Brian May and in live situations by somebody like Glenn Branca. However, that does not stop me from being fascinated by it. As a matter of fact, I still dream of establishing a purely electric guitar orchestra in the Philippines. I don’t know if that idea has already been implemented in this godforsaken country where I live but I hope to turn that idea into reality.

Anyway, as I was going through and studying the hymns that will be sung at the UCCP-MCCD on Sunday, I ended playing our benediction hymn (“The Lord Bless You and Keep You”) on the piano. The idea then came to me to create a test recording of my electric guitar plugged into a tiny tube amp,  a Bugera BC15 (a hybrid actually with a tube preamp and solid state power section). Okay, I know some snobbish gearhead somewhere in cyberspace would have their negative impressions of it but who cares anyway? As long as it can do what I need, I’m happy. Guess what the piece I used for the test recording. It’s the benediction hymn. Not much of a puzzle at all, right?

So, I plugged my guitar into the amp, mic’ed up my amp with my trusty old condenser mic, took the hymnal from the piano and into the other piano (where my recording equipment is located), and I began reading through all the parts while recording. Since it’s SATB, I recorded each part into four different tracks, mixed everything, performed some post-production processing, and ended up with this:

 

So, on face value it seems like I’m trying to channel a cheap Brian May impression. Brian May is, after all, Brian May, and nobody could match what he could do. The point here really is not imitating Brian May (although it somewhat sounds like it), but experimenting and figuring out how a tiny amp and an electric guitar would sound like as an ensemble instrument. It’s kind of like an electric rondalla ensemble, the kind of thing I’m dreaming about. For my ears, it sounds nice although opinions by others may vary. I’m happy that I could realize something like an electric guitar orchestra in a studio setting.

This got me into thinking: I suppose it really is possible for me to organize an electric guitar orchestra here in the Philippines. The thing required to turn this into reality is to get around 12 note-reading guitarists equipped with their electric guitars and tiny amps (with overdrive). This, however, is fraught with certain problems:

1. In a performance situation, having at least 12 guitar amps would be difficult to control. No matter how tiny they can be, each amp can be really loud. This leads us to problem number 2:

2. There are lead guitarists that have an inflated sense of ego. They would complain they are not loud enough, so they would turn up their volume. Eventually everybody starts competing for volume. It can be a big headache.

3. Financing such a project can be expensive. To sum it up, I cannot afford it and the future of an electric guitar orchestra being financially compensated for what it’s worth seems nil.

Possible solutions include:

1. Hooking up each amp into a mixing board. However, the entire point of an electric guitar orchestra is to simulate an acoustic one i.e. I will treat an electric guitar and an amp as a single instrument. Positioning each amplifier in different sections of the performance hall is essential in how I perceive an electric guitar orchestra should sound like. Hooking up each amp to a mixing board with the output ultimately coming from PA loudspeakers would completely destroy the ambient effect I am looking for.

2. Hiring for attitude, training for skill. I should try to employ humble and open-minded guitarists willing to learn how to read notation. I should avoid those who try to be extra special with egos bigger than Yngwie Malmsteen.

3. Getting a grant and looking for sponsors. Perhaps I should turn this into a proposal for a local arts society or foundation and see if they would finance me. Are there local foundations out there who would give a rat’s ass about a project like this? I don’t know. I could try finding if I got the time. Perhaps there might be a couple of rich people out there who have the money for such.

I wonder if this electric guitar orchestra dream of mine could become a reality here in the Philippines. Maybe somebody out there would support it.

Answering the Call

It’s was the first Saturday of the year that I had formally worked with both the choir and worship band of UCCP-Makati Church of Christ Disciples. It was tough and challenging yet at the same very fulfilling. I have seen the logistical challenges that I would face should I try to unite both choir and worship band. The task seems daunting but I hope for the best. I am really hoping that I’m being of any help to that rather small community of believers.

Just this morning was the time that I would call testing the waters. Although I had played with the worship band a couple of times, it was the first time I would be at my most active. I was directing the band while playing lead guitar. I played with the church’s regular pianist and choir conductor through a number of songs. I was trying very hard to demonstrate that there need not be a divide between a traditional piano-and-choir-group and a contemporary worship band. In my mind it should just be a single worship group that is engaged throughout the worship service. Next Saturday I will be hauling again a number of items from my home studio to the church, teach music theory and instrument technique in the afternoon, rehearse with both choir and worship band.

As things go at this time, it seems that the worship band isn’t ready yet for the rather technical aspects of playing the kind of music featured in the anthem section of the worship service. I aspire to be able to pass down whatever skills I have to the band and the choir so that every musical aspect of the service could be covered by both as a single unit. It doesn’t have to matter whether they are singing traditional hymns or covering the kind of stuff that Don Moen and Ron Kenoly would play. I am optimistic that this will happen given training and patience.

Like my studio persona, I am a teacher, equipment technician, musician, and music director rolled into one package. It’s tough work where I do not expect any remuneration of sort. What lies ahead of me are more challenges from both a personal and professional perspective. Why would I be crazy enough to put out such effort every week? It’s because I am answering the call of The Lord. I have no other justification for it. God has called me to use my skills for his purpose. I will abide by what I believe is my calling and purpose in life. So it has begun, my life as a volunteer music worker.

The Kurzweil PC88: My Present-Day Gig Instrument

Today I’d like to talk about my present band practice and gig instrument, the Kurzweil PC88 Performance Controller Keyboard. Why would I do so? Because I like this instrument very much, plain and simple. For any of you out there looking for a review of this fine instrument, read on.

Before I discuss the ins and outs of this instrument, I’d like to tell a brief history about how I stumbled across this “portable” stage piano and eventually became its owner. I was looking for a portable 88-key replacement for a Yamaha SY-77 I had sold a few years back. In July 2012, I browsed through the Philmusic classifieds and found a seller who was selling a PC88. The price seemed reasonable, and then I thought to myself I could use something a bit similar to Jordan Rudess’s Kurzweil K2600. To cut the long story short, I bought it and have been using it since then.

The Kurzweil PC88 was exactly what I was looking for, a keyboard with a pianistic range and some very good sounds. My favorite patches in it are “Classical Piano”, “Suitcase E. Piano”, a number of organ sounds and the “Slow Digital Pad”. In my mind, these sounds should serve as my bread and butter presets. My particular unit is the “MX” variety so it also has a general MIDI bank and a generous 64-note polyphony. Because it’s not a synth, its selection of sounds is limited but it has powerful layering capabilities via the “MIDI Setup” mode where you can layer four sounds, each of which has its individual volume slider. In a limited way, you can create some fantastic patches with real-time control over each sound. Whether I’m playing progressive rock, praise and worship music, or jazz, I can pretty much cover good ground.

I’m not really doing multitrack orchestral stuff with it so 64 notes is pretty generous for my purpose. The feel or touch of its key bed is definitely weighted, similar to the feel of a Yamaha grand I had used about 4 years ago in a company Christmas party, but has a bit of a springy bounce that you will never find in an acoustic piano. How would I know? It’s because it feels very different from the acoustic upright piano I use at home. The rugged metal casing provides me with confidence that it would withstand the rigors of playing out.

As much as I love this instrument, it is not without its faults. I bought this particular PC88 used, and so some of the lead weights were loose. I had to hire a technician to have all the weights of the key bed fixed with a stronger adhesive. My technician said that the original adhesive used doesn’t hold up well to tropical weather, and that’s why they would become loose as the instrument ages. Given the fact that it’s not a synth, I could not use the sort of analog-ish lead sounds I enjoyed in my former Yamaha SY-77, and so I have to stick to organ or piano sounds for my leads.  Lastly, the PC88 is heavy! You will not enjoy climbing up stairs lugging this keyboard on your own. When I set this up in the church (UCCP-MCCD) where I occasionally play, I usually have to ask for assistance from friend and bandmate Pastor Chaz to carry it inside the church. Yes, Kurzweil didn’t lie when it said that the PC88 was portable. They forgot to write down a caveat that it’s only portable if you have a car, if a buddy to help you carry it, or strength comparable to a well-trained athlete. If you plan on carrying it around while commuting, I’d probably laugh at you.

So, in summary, other than the initial key bed lead weight issue, the lack of decent synth lead sounds, and the weight of the instrument, the Kurzweil PC88 is a great piano analog and an impressive MIDI controller.